In 1997, a social worker was brutally gang raped. That incident took by storm and there were protests all over. Supreme Court reigned in to formulate protection laws for women at work place. The Hon. SC has put forth a few guidelines, which later became popular as Vishakha Guidelines.
But what amounts to sexual harassment? There are many precedents followed, many case laws analysed while adjudging a case as a sexual harassment. However, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission , defines sexual harassment as “unlawful in nature to harass a person of same or opposite sex”. This includes physical harassment, stalking, making derogatory or offensive comments against a particular gender. This definition is more or less on equal footing with Vishakha Guidelines.
Consider India. Sexual harassment is the second biggest cause of mental trauma after rape. While sexual harassment mostly cover the workplace, rape, forced sex and marital rape are still prevalent in rural and, shockingly, in urban India. Ministry of Women and Child Development is striving hard to educate women about their rights at workplace. 70% of the women who face sexual harassment at workplace do not report it to the management. A mandatory desk at workplace for dealing cases of this nature is being properly adhered to.
University of Michigan categorises the types of sexual harassment in the following ways:
Quid Pro Quo – Seeking sexual favours in anticipation of benefits. A simple example would be that of being promoted to higher levels in office. A superior invites favours and the employee is forced to submit to the superior’s request. However, Quid Pro Quo has always been in favour of the superiors, where, the employee’s request is not entertained.
Hostile Nature – This amounts to forced harassment. Intimidating, blackmailing, humiliating, threatening, etc. are all part of Hostile environment. This generally happens when the other person is significantly in a stronger position than others – physically, politically, financially, socially.
In addition to the mentioned two categories, are a few examples:
Unwanted Sexual Statements – Sexual/derogatory/dirty jokes, or usage of filthy language to hurt another person. Spreading rumours or imitating ones sexual activity before others, etc. are examples of unwanted sexual statements.
Unwanted Personal Attention – Writing letters, frequent telephonic calls, pressure for sexual favours, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction, etc.
Unwanted Physical Advances – Forced hugs, kiss, touching, fondling, touching oneself for other view, etc all account for this kind of advances.
But, harassment has mostly been confined to women, where as men too face significant sexual discrimination. Same sex harassment are also on the rise. Women managers harassing women subordinates, male bosses subjecting lower grade employees to humiliating or menial jobs. These are yet to be addressed in a significant way.
Giving primacy to article 14 and 15 – right to equality and article 21 – right to life and dignity, the Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace (Prevention, prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Few important rules you must know:
– It is mandatory to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee.
– ICC members shall be nominated by the employer and it shall consist of
– A presiding officer
– Atleast 2 employees who are committed to the cause of women
– One member from amongst Non-Governmental Organisation or an organisation committed to the cause of women
– A Local Complaints committee shall be formed at district level for receiving complaints where ICC was not formed due to having less than 10 workers.
– A women can lodge a complaint with 3 months of the incident. In any case if the victim is unable to register a complaint, her relatives, co-workers, or a person nominated by the presiding officer shall take up the victim’s cause.
Numbers show that hardly 16% of the employers are adhering to these guidelines. While this is just a beginning to secure our women at workplace, much needs to be done to make every office or every workplace a better place for women, as well as men.
Disclamer : The views expressed by the authors on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of this website.